In 1985, Vince McMahon created WrestleMania, a sports and pop-culture extravaganza—including the likes of Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, The Rockettes and Liberace. It all took place in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden and aired on closed-circuit television.
Fast forward to Sunday’s WrestleMania 33, which will take place in front of a sold-out crowd at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., while streaming live on WWE Network (our direct-to-consumer streaming service), where it can be seen worldwide on virtually any device.
WrestleMania has constantly evolved over the past three decades. In fact, Forbes ranked WrestleMania as one of the top five most valuable sports brands for the second year in a row alongside the Super Bowl, the Summer and Winter Olympics, and the World Cup.
Even if you don’t work in the worlds of sports or entertainment, marketers in any industry can learn from the ongoing growth, fan engagement and sponsor integrations that have made WrestleMania an enduring phenomenon.
1. Be a storyteller
The phrase “content is king” still holds true today, especially in a world where fans have endless options and are consuming content in new ways and across platforms.
At WWE, we are storytellers; we create compelling characters—protagonists and antagonists—with many of our storylines culminating at our biggest event of the year, WrestleMania. So for us, the success of WrestleMania starts with the attraction and creating engaging content around storylines that gives our fans a reason to care.
Every brand has a story, and it’s critical to connect your consumers with whatever that story may be. Be creative. Be surprising. Be provocative. Most importantly…
2. Be bold
Whether it was Vince McMahon pioneering the pay-per-view business and cable television in the 1980s or taking a calculated risk by disrupting WWE’s own pay-per-view business with the launch of WWE Network nearly 30 years later, WWE continues to be a bold innovator.
Being bold in the board room is one thing, but being bold in front of a sold-out stadium and millions of fans watching around the world is another. With a production value unlike any other live entertainment or sporting event, WrestleMania is a combination of rock concert, theater, athletic competition and pyrotechnic extravaganza, providing family-friendly entertainment with a little something for everyone.
As the late David Carr said, “for any legacy business under threat of disruption, the challenge is to get from one room—the one with the tried and true profitable approach—to another, where consumers are headed and innovators are setting up shop. To get there, you have to enter a long, dark hallway, a scary place.”
Marketers can’t be afraid to enter that long, dark hallway. Be bold, and take calculated risks in order to grow your brand or business.
3. Be a fan
Our fans are the secret sauce. Whether it’s seeing them react (with cheers or boos) at more than 500 live events each year, or it’s receiving real-time feedback on social media, they are an important part of the show. And our live events are our most valuable “focus groups.”
In addition to listening to your consumers, it is important to be a user of your own products and experience them first-hand. For us, that means attending a live event and sitting in the stands, standing in line to purchase a product, subscribing to WWE Network to see the user experience, or consuming content on social media. You have to understand what the fan experience is in order to figure out how you can improve it.
To that end, investing in technology and analytics is critical and it provides organizations with a greater opportunity to understand consumer behavior than it ever has before. Data and analytics are driving the critical marketing decisions in today’s rapidly changing marketplace, and a department we’ve recently grown at a rapid pace.
4. Be everywhere
WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon has a saying: “You can’t think traditionally in a non-traditional world.” As today’s media landscape continues to evolve, there are more ways than ever to tell your story across platforms 24/7, globally.
With no offseason, our fans are connected to WWE at all times whether it’s on traditional television or through short-form content or direct engagement on digital and social. It’s critical to distribute your message and tell your story across every media platform. This is exactly what we have done to generate buzz around our biggest event of the year.
5. Be valuable
Brands must create an incredible value proposition, whether it’s for their consumers or business partners.
For our fans, we’ve created value with the 2014 launch of WWE Network, which we priced at $9.99 per month so that WWE fans have access to all live pay-per-views, original programming and more than 7,000 hours of VOD content.
For our business partners, it’s simple: provide access to a global, diverse and engaged set of consumers. At WWE, we are one-stop shopping, so we make it incredibly easy for our partners to activate across multiple platforms with access to a roster of more than 200 performers.
When you make it easy and over-deliver, brands will want to do business with you, and partners will continue to do business with you.
6. Be caring
Marketers understand the importance of share of mind, but at WWE, share of heart is just as important.
Perhaps our most impactful partnerships are the ones that inspire. At WWE, our mission is to put smiles on people’s faces the world over, whether we do that with family-friendly entertainment programming, or through our partnerships around diversity, education, hope and the military—the four pillars that form WWE’s corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Investing the time and resources into corporate social responsibility efforts at any company is critical, and should not only be a privilege, but a responsibility. These partnerships will leave a lasting impact on the communities you serve.
7. Be current
At WWE, we keep our finger on the pulse, and many of those who define pop culture are WWE fans. This creates opportunities for us to integrate sports, entertainment, politics and music into our storylines, or celebrities into our programming.
Brands should be aware of the latest trends, whether that’s digital platforms or celebrity influencers. Doing this allows your brand to stay fresh and relevant with both your current fans, and the next generation of fans or consumers.
Michelle Wilson is chief revenue and marketing officer at WWE. WrestleMania 33 takes place this Sunday, April 2, at 7 p.m. ET, streaming live on WWE Network.